Joe Dawson could not believe his ears. He made a conscious effort to quell the anger he felt rising. He stopped wiping the sodden towel over the polished surface of the bar and drawled, "You want to run that by me again?"
Mike Barrett, his former bartender and subordinate in the Watcher organization, did not appear to notice Joe's change in attitude. Oblivious, he swallowed his mouthful of beer and continued. "I said I wish my current assignment would check in with me like you've got MacLeod trained to do. That is such a sweet set up; no standing outside in the pouring rain in bad neighborhoods, no more trying to sneak close enough to hear fragments of conversations, or lugging heavy cameras about in the vague hope you'll get a chance telephoto shot of some unknown Immie." Mike sighed dramatically. "Did you hear the Methos Pool is up to $217,000? I could sure use a chunk of change like that! Hell, he's probably already in our records, but hasn't been made yet as Methos. I could be rich and not know it."
Joe smiled. "You could be right, Mike. Trouble is, it could take hundreds of years before anyone ever finds out the truth. Do you suppose they'll give the money to your descendants?" he added, feeling ornery. Mike was rubbing Joe the wrong way tonight and Joe was in a mood to give it back to him.
"Ha, ha; very funny. I'd just settle for a normal social life and filing reports instead of all that investigative work." Finishing off the rest of his beer, he stared admiringly at Joe. "You've got it made, ol' buddy," he said, sliding the empty glass over to Joe with an experienced flick of the wrist.
Joe snorted. "Yeah, right. It's a real cake–walk."
Suddenly concerned, Mike leaned closer. "Hey, I didn't mean anything by it, Joe. You know that, right?" he asked, earnestly. "All I meant is that MacLeod is a great assignment. I'm glad you two are friends."
Slightly mollified, Joe gave a crooked smile. "Yeah, I know what you meant. No offense taken. Don't sweat it."
"Thanks, Joe," Mike said, relieved. "Hey, I'll catch you later, okay?"
"Sure." Joe watched Mike throw a few bills on the bar and wind his way around a few chairs as he walked to the door. Joe still felt dissatisfied though. He did kind of miss the old days of actively following Immortals, lurking about, gleaning scraps of information and trying to deduce the rest of their secretive lives. He shook his head; maybe he was getting rusty, complacent. He didn't care for the idea that his valuable, hard–earned skills in surveillance would soon fade away without a fight.
He heard the front door open and watched as Mike moved back a half of a step to give way to the two men that were entering the bar.
"Hey, MacLeod; good to see you looking so well…and Adam Pierson!" Mike's voice was filled with speculation and he laid a restraining hand on the young Watcher's arm as Adam passed by. "Hey, have you got any hot tips on your assignment that you can give me?" he asked good–naturedly. Adam Pierson was well known and envied amongst the Watchers. The bright young grad student had secured the plumb job of researching the fabled oldest Immortal, Methos. There was speculation that his evasive quarry was well over five thousand years old.
Adam stared briefly at the ceiling as he considered the question. "Actually, I do," he said animatedly. "I've recently been able to piece together that my assignment was probably in England as recently as 1453." He grinned at Mike's suddenly disgusted expression.
"That'll be a big help, Pierson. Sounds like you're hot on his trail."
Adam's eyes twinkled. "Relatively speaking, I'm breathing down his elusive neck."
Mike laughed out loud. "I guess you are at that! I gotta run at the moment, but good luck with him."
"Yeah; later, Mike." Methos turned and sauntered the remaining steps to the bar where MacLeod and Joe waited for him. His grin widened at their semi–chastising expressions. It was just too bad for Mike that he had no idea that 'Adam Pierson' was a cover for Methos and therefore couldn't appreciate what a fine joke it all was.
"What? Did I lie? Of course I didn't. There are sometimes I feel so near to my assignment, well, we could be in the same room!"
MacLeod snorted and shook his head. "A couple of beers, Joe." He leaned on the counter top, facing Methos. "Anyway, you aren't going to change the subject on me for once: what is the greatest invention you've been witness to?"
"Easy. The television set."
MacLeod stared back disbelieving. "You're going to have to justify that!"
"What's to justify? A war breaks out halfway across the world. Not only do you not have to wait three months to a year to find out about it, but you can watch it happen from the safety of your living room at eleven o'clock, sandwiched right between sports and the Hollywood Minute."
MacLeod was appalled. "You can't be serious. Besides, by relying on a source like that, you will never know the truth of the matter."
"The truth is more elusive than my assignment, MacLeod. Thanks, Joe," he said, picking up his beer. He took a long swallow with obvious satisfaction. "And speaking of the truth, did I ever tell you about the time I spent as a student of Plato?"
MacLeod chuckled. "Did you have to repeat many of the classes, or did he have a remedial group of people such as yourself?" he said, moving to an empty table towards the end of the bar.
Methos trailed behind him. "Actually, I was a star pupil, after the first couple of years, that is. He said I was a real challenge to him," Methos bragged as he slouched comfortably on his chosen chair.
"Oh, I believe it, especially coming from the man who put the 'me' in Methos."
Joe picked up a damp towel and wiped down the bar in front of him. The long, sweeping semi–circles expertly covered more territory with each pass and he moved closer to the chatty Immortals as he worked.
Methos smiled. "Flattery will get you nowhere. Besides, you're only saying that because you're trying to charm information out of me and because the bar is empty."
"Trying to get the truth out of you is almost as difficult as trying to get you to pick up a bar tab or part with one of your precious books. I bet you set the fire that destroyed the library at Alexandria to cover the fact that you'd stolen all of their books."
"Not even close. I was in charge of acquisitions and had Pharaoh's leave to borrow any book I heard about for an extended loan. I was the library's curator, or more precisely the whisper in the ear of the curator."
"Pharaoh? Ptolemy II?"
"Philadelphus was quite the collector and so was his son Euergetes." Methos smiled fondly. "That boy didn't mind taking strong measures when he needed to. Besides, we made sure to return copies of the books we'd borrowed."
MacLeod frowned. Joe bent over and gave every appearance of tidying up the provisions beneath the bar top.
"Are you saying that —"
Methos interrupted MacLeod. "Yes, but let me ask you one now. When was your first crossing of an ocean?"
MacLeod looked wary. "1778. I was shipwrecked off of Japan. Why? Anyway, you probably already know that from reading my Chronicle."
"Mac! Check up on a friend? That's not very nice! Besides, I had to give the Chronicles back when I left the Watchers."
"Yeah. Right. I just bet you did." MacLeod drank deep from his glass and eyed his companion. "What about you? Where was your first shipwreck?"
Methos smiled enigmatically. "Somewhere north of Turkey, a very long time ago."
"The Black Sea? What were you doing sailing the Black Sea?"
"It wasn't a sea when we started." Methos paused, then took pity on MacLeod's confusion. "It was a big boat with lots of room for livestock."
Duncan's frown deepened. "Noah? You're not trying to tell me that you…."
"Had a place on the Ark? Sure I did. At least till I was washed overboard during a squall. Have you ever tried to tread water for forty days and forty nights, MacLeod? Do you have any idea how badly a body will prune?" He picked up his empty glass and stood. "Want another?" Without waiting, he scooped up MacLeod's glass and went to the bar.
"Fill 'em up, Joseph," he said, winking at the Watcher.
Joe automatically reached for two fresh glasses and placed them beneath the tap. "How much of this is true?"
Methos' eyes danced with mischief. "More than he thinks, less than you hope."
"I don't suppose you'd take pity on an old Watcher and…."
The world's oldest man pulled a rumpled twenty from his pocket and exchanged it for the drinks. "Nope. I don't want to spoil your fun." He leaned forward. "You're doing a fine job, Joe," he whispered encouragingly, before he returned to MacLeod's table. "I just thank god that the pruning had completely disappeared before I spent a few years in Florence working as a male model, starting in 1501."
MacLeod laughed. "Oh, now I know you are making all this up. You don't look anything like David."
Methos slouched down. "I know I've let myself go a bit since then; the life of a researcher doesn't encourage a nice, buff physique. Besides, I made him put someone else's face on the thing. It wouldn't do to have a perfectly sculpted, twelve–foot high image of myself lying about for all to see, now would it?"
Joe considered the slender, jean and sweater clad figure that lounged casually across from MacLeod, then looked again at the twenty–dollar bill he held. Just when he thought he was getting to know who Methos was, the wily Immortal subtly changed, his behaviors proving as inconsistent as quicksilver. Did he do it on purpose, or was it instinct and habit? How variable did a man need to be if he lived for five thousand years? As it was, the man Joe considered a friend was a collection of contradictions and mysteries. Would he ever know the truth about the enigma that was Methos? Joe sincerely doubted it, but that wasn't going to stop him from trying to untangle the puzzle. He vowed to carefully record all the banter he heard today and see what he could rule out as definite falsehoods. Perhaps they all were, but maybe, just maybe, the crafty ol' sonnofabitch was telling the truth, but in such a way that it defied believing in. He could see where such a stunt would appeal to the twisted humor of the strangely perverse Methos.
Joe looked again at the twenty he held and grinned; perhaps this was the start of 'Methos, the man who always pays his bills.' Now that would make for an interesting change!